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Alessandro Fillari, Contributor

March 28, 2024

5 Min Read
Image via Alessandro Fillari.

Quotes have been edited for clarity and readability.

In many ways, the original Tetris is one of the most timeless and approachable video games ever made. With its easy pick-up and play style and its iconic music, the classic puzzle game gets better with age, and even more recent generations are finding a lot to like with the original game. In the years since the first came out, many developers have tried their hand at making follow-ups to the original—but Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov came up with a different and more "cerebral" way to play the original game in a new way, which he revealed at this year's Game Developers Conference.

At GDC 2024, Pajitnov—who was joined by Ocean Media CEO Vedran Klanac and Geogrify CEO Kate Edwards—revealed the initial plans to release an alternative follow-up to Tetris and why we're just now hearing about it publicly. Referred to as Tetris Reversed, it was a planned sequel that aimed to change the way people played Tetris. It even got far enough with a prototype of the game that it was revealed to a GDC audience for the first time.

It's Tetris, but reversed

In their panel, "Unearthing 'Tetris Reversed': A Tale of Rediscovery and Collaboration," they started off with how the initial development for Tetris Reversed began in 2011 and that it all came from an idea that Pajitnov had when observing the average player's behavior with his original game. According to the Tetris creator, he noticed that most players tended to focus on the "profile" of the stacks of blocks as they were building up—in other words, how the stack's outline was shaped.

He noted that players often try to make their blocks appear as smooth and straight as possible. With this in mind, he came up with an alternate version of the game that leaned into that experience of focusing on the "profile" of the stacks while also having players be aware of the entire field of the game. Working with then-programmer Vedran Klanac—now current CEO of Ocean Media—to get the prototype built, Tetris Reversed was born.

"If you remember playing board games, most of them have an active space to play in, and the player tries to use all the space in the field to engage with the game," said Pajitnov. "So I thought maybe Tetris should be done somehow with another attempt that uses the playfield, and then I found a way to do it, basically to reverse the game. Instead of putting the pieces in the playfield like in the original, you would have to use them to eat away at it—that's where the reverse aspect of Tetris Reverse came from."

With Tetris Reversed, the gameplay focuses on removing the profile of the stacks in the background with the falling tetromino pieces. In the prototype's gameplay demo, we saw the player use the tetromino pieces to take away parts of the randomly generated background stacks, lowering them with the intent to clear them away—hence Tetris Reversed.

Unlike the original Tetris, which can be played for extended periods, Reversed was designed for more bite-sized sessions, with some lasting up to ten minutes. Based on the levels and choices, Pajitnov stated that some levels could be "absolutely impossible" to win based on how the background blocks were set up and your choices in the game, but if players could make the right moves, a winnable game was possible.

Why was Tetris Reversed never released?

During the demo, Pajitnov spoke with Klanac about the prototype and stated that he felt they had a good game with Tetris Reversed. There were plans to get the game into total production and eventually into a shipped game, but things got pretty complicated following work on the prototype. Along with Klanac, Pajitnov also worked with game producer Martin de Ronde in trying to get the game off the ground. However, further work ran into stumbles, as Pajitnov put it.

"We did our job, and I finished the concept, the growth, the ideas, and everything there for Tetris Reversed," Pajitnov said in a Q&A session following the GDC panel. "It was in the preliminary phase, and we were ready with this prototype to start production. But in this case, production never started, so we ended up waiting for the next stage, which never happened because it's not our job to bring it to that. Martin de Ronde had too much on his table at the time, so he delayed this phase of production, probably because he had some trouble with The Tetris Company and getting permission to proceed with this version of the game. So eventually, he gave up and moved on, and that's why Tetris Reversed was never released."

Following the failure to get production going on Tetris Reversed, Pajitnov and Klanac moved on, and the original prototype was left inside the computer files of an old Windows 7 PC in Klanac's home for over a decade.

Is there a chance of Tetris Reversed being released?

In recent years, there's been a great deal of interest in canceled and proof of concepts for games that never were—and Tetris Reversed is a really intriguing look at an alternate version of the game from the original creator of the world's most well-known video game.

"I should admit, and it's very subjective, but the fun factor is higher in the original Tetris than in Tetris Reversed," he said. "That is because this version is a more cerebral game."

According to Pajitnov and Klanac, they stated that the planned game had potential and hoped to revisit it someday, provided they could find investors and publishers interested in it.

Game Developer and GDC are sibling organizations under Informa Tech.

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About the Author(s)

Alessandro Fillari

Contributor

Alessandro Fillari is a writer/editor who has covered the games, tech, and entertainment industries for more than 12 years. He is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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